Czechs Blame 2014 Blasts at Ammunition Depots on Elite Russian Spy Unit

The Czech Republic on Saturday blamed a series of mysterious 2014 explosions at Czech ammunition depots on an elite unit of Russia’s military intelligence service — a group that Britain has linked to a 2018 attack with a nerve agent on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, England.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said at a Prague news conference that his government would respond by expelling 18 Russian diplomats, whom it had identified as spies. He said there was “clear evidence,” assembled by the Czech intelligence and security services, showing “reasonable suspicion” that the Russian group, known as Unit 29155, had been involved in the blasts in late 2014, which killed two Czechs.

The announcement underscored the breadth of Russia’s efforts to expand its influence and pursue aggressive actions around the world, including military-style operations, assassinations and cyberattacks.

The elite Russian unit has operated for at least a decade, focusing on subversion, sabotage and assassination beyond Russia’s borders. It first came to light after the March 2018 attack in Salisbury, England, on a turncoat Russian ex-spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, using the nerve agent Novichok. Both fell gravely ill but later recovered.

Britain blamed the Salisbury attack on Russian military intelligence, known as the G.R.U., and identified two of its agents, who traveled under fake names as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as the prime suspects.

As the prime minister spoke in Prague, the anti-organized-crime unit of the Czech national police issued its own statement, saying that two Russian men using the same names were wanted in connection with an unspecified “serious crime” and were known to have been in the Czech Republic — including the Zlin region, where the ammunition depots exploded — from Oct. 11 to Oct. 16, 2014, the date of the first blast.

The Czech police also released photographs of the two men, who looked like the men shown in photographs released in 2018 by Britain. The police said the men had used at least two different identities and asked anyone who had seen them or knew anything about their movements in the Czech Republic to call a hotline.

Mr. Babis, the prime minister, did not accuse the two Russians directly of involvement in the arms warehouse explosions, but he said there was “unequivocal evidence” that agents working for Russian military intelligence had been involved.

“Czech Republic is a sovereign state and must react accordingly to those unprecedented revelations,” Mr. Babis added.

The Czech Republic, a member of NATO, has expelled Russian diplomats in the past but has never ordered as many out as it did on Saturday. The expulsions came just days after Washington expelled 10 Russian diplomats over interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election and the hacking of computer systems used by government agencies.

Poland, another NATO member, also expelled Russia diplomats in recent days, ordering three to leave on Thursday in what Warsaw said was a gesture of “solidarity” with the United States.

The Czech action, however, was more severe and unusually sweeping.

“I am sorry that Czech-Russian relations will suffer, however, the Czech Republic must react,” the acting foreign minister, Jan Hamacek, said in Prague.

What caused the ammunition depot blasts, which began in the village of Vlachovice and resumed at a nearby depot in December 2014, has never been fully explained.

They coincided with efforts by Ukraine to increase its supply of weapons from abroad as it struggled to recover eastern territory seized by Russian-backed rebels in the summer of 2014.

Czech media reports on Saturday also linked the blasts to what they said may have been a Russian drive to halt the delivery of Czech-made weapons to forces fighting in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Moscow.

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SCDF deploys elite team to rescue injured woman in Jelapang Road canal

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) deployed its elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) to rescue an injured woman in a large canal on Wednesday (Mar 10).

SCDF said that it had received a call for assistance near Block 510 Jelapang Road in Bukit Panjang at about 5.50pm.

When members of the SCDF arrived at the scene, they saw a woman lying face-down at the bottom of the canal.

Firefighters and Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) members rescuing an injured woman from a canal on Jelapang Road on Mar 10, 2021. (Photo: SCDF)

SCDF deploys elite team to rescue injured woman in Jelapang Road canal (2)

Firefighters and Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) members rescuing an injured woman from a canal on Jelapang Road on Mar 10, 2021. (Photo: SCDF)

“Firefighters from Bukit Batok Fire Station immediately deployed a ladder to gain access into the canal,” said the SCDF.

The woman was assessed to have sustained injuries to her head, hip and legs by SCDF’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) crew.

Firefighters and rescuers from DART secured onto a stretcher and hoisted her out of the canal.

She was then taken to the National University Hospital (NUH) in an ambulance.

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Melbourne man convicted of killing his girlfriend ‘looking for love’ on Elite Singles

A grieving mother has gone public to issue a warning to women after the man convicted of killing her daughter was found looking for love on dating apps.

Charles Evans, 47, has been out on parole for six months after spending two years and eight months for running down his fiance Alicia Lee in a Toyota Hilux in 2017 after she ended their relationship.

A murder charge was downgraded to dangerous driving causing death and fail to render assistance in a deal with prosecutors.

He had previously said: “Mental illness caused her death, not me”.

Upon his release, however, he’s wasted no time looking for a new partner.

On his Eilte Singles profile, Evans wrote he is “enjoying life” and looking for “love, happiness, friendship, chemistry”.

Alicia’s mother Lee is calling for more regulation for who is able to sign up for dating sites.

“It scares me that it’s so easy to get on these sites and start preying again,” she told 7NEWS.

“They should have a regulation for predators and perpetrators.

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Elite Office Furniture

Elite Office Furniture

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Director of France’s elite Sciences Po steps down over Duhamel abuse scandal – POLITICO

The director of France’s elite Sciences Po university resigned Tuesday after it emerged he had known for years about sexual abuse allegations against the school board’s former president.

In a book released in early January, lawyer Camille Kouchner accused one of France’s most prominent political scientists, Olivier Duhamel, her stepfather, of sexually abusing her twin brother when they were teenagers. 

Duhamel was the president of the National Foundation of Political Science (FNSP), the board that oversees the governance of Sciences Po, a prestigious school attended by much of France’s political class. Duhamel stepped down from his position shortly before the first extracts of the book were published in Le Monde. He has declined to comment to media outlets on the accusations.

Suspicions mounted in the following weeks about who in the French political establishment might have known about the allegations before they were aired publicly.

Frédéric Mion, the director of Sciences Po, initially said he was not aware of the allegations and was “in shock” over the book’s revelations. Shortly after, it emerged that he had been told about the allegations two years before by former Socialist Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti.

Mion acknowledged “errors of judgment in processing the allegations of which I had been made aware in 2018, as well as inconsistencies in the way I spoke publicly about the unfolding of the case,” in a statement sent to the school’s staff and students announcing his resignation, reported by French media.

Marc Guillaume, current prefect of the Paris region — the highest-ranking representative of the French State at the local level — also acknowledged in front of an administrative investigative committee that he was aware of “sexual problems” relating to Duhamel, news magazine Marianne reported Tuesday.

Guillaume, who previously served as a secretary general under the governments of both François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron until last year, stepped down from the Sciences Po board in January.

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At Elite French Universities, Students Demand Environmental Action

PARIS — The sprawling campus of the École Polytechnique, one of the world’s finest engineering schools, has long been a magnet for major French industrial and energy companies, eager to attract some of France’s brightest minds.

So when it was announced last year that the oil and gas giant Total would establish a research center on campus, located southeast of Paris, it seemed like a natural fit.

Instead, it sparked an uproar. Hundreds of students voted against the research center. At a time when engineers and scientists should be leading the way to a newly sustainable world, they argued, among other things, the project gave undue influence to a company that remains a world leader in fossil fuels.

“I find it disturbing to be influenced by Total, which has a rather biased vision of the energy transition,” said Benoit Halgand, 22, who is in his final year at the school. He added the company “will always want to use oil and gas for many years to come.”

A spokesman for Total said in a written response that the group is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and that its research center has “the sole objective of accelerating innovation and research on low-carbon energies.”

The clash at the École Polytechnique was just the latest of the clashes taking place at France’s elite campuses, long seen by ambitious students as the path to success. Now students alarmed by a warming planet are challenging the corporations that see them as potential future employees.

“By going to class, by working, we take part in a world that we denounce,” said Caroline Mouille, a 23-year-old engineering student in Toulouse, in southern France. “Cognitive dissonance is huge.”

Frustrated by the disparity between the world they dream of and the one they are offered, students are pressuring universities to put climate change and other environmental issues at the core of their curriculums. Some schools have taken steps in that direction, but critics say it is not nearly enough.

The environment has become a primary concern in France, a country where climate change protests drew thousands of teenagers to the streets in 2019 and where president Emmanuel Macron recently announced a referendum to add environmental protection to the Constitution.

The growing environmental movement at France’s most prestigious universities, or “Grandes Écoles,” the traditional training ground for corporate executives and top civil servants, has profound implications for the next generation of the country’s elite. The conflict has pitted students against consumerism and against what they consider to be the profit-driven nature of some of France’s largest corporations, including L’Oréal.

Student activism there has been rare in the past, so the calls for change have surprised many people, particularly at the École Polytechnique, which is overseen by the defense ministry and where students, considered members of the armed forces, are normally bound to confidentiality.

Mr. Halgand said that environmental concerns had given birth to “a fairly new criticism” among young people of today’s economic and social systems.

“In the past, among engineers, there was often this idea of doing technical feats,” he said. “Today, we ask ourselves, ‘Why? What is the environmental and societal impact behind it?’”

In 2018, a “Manifesto for an ecological awakening,” written by students at top universities, called for placing “the ecological transition at the core of our social project,” and collected some 30,000 student signatures in just a few weeks.

Central to their demands was a stark reality: environmental issues remain largely under-taught in higher education. A 2019 study by the think tank The Shift Project showed that at 34 French universities, less than one-quarter of degree programs offered any courses in climate and energy issues, and most of those did not make such a class mandatory.

A flurry of open letters from students have called on universities to rethink their teaching from top to bottom — in often unsparing terms.

“Our education,” read a recent letter signed by some 2,000 students and alumni of HEC Paris, one of Europe’s top business schools, “does not sufficiently integrate ecological and social issues, reducing them at best to ‘negative externalities’ and at worst to marketing opportunities.”

Responding to student demands, some universities have started revising their curriculums. A mandatory three-day seminar on climate change for every new student was introduced at the École Polytechnique two years ago, and the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon has committed to overhauling its teaching to educate all students about environmental issues.

Matthieu Mazière, the director of studies at the Mines ParisTech engineering school, said that students have challenged the content of courses, in addition to the air travel of professors. “They force us to question ourselves,” he said.

Critics, however, say that the questioning hasn’t gone far enough.

“We feel like we’ve understood and they haven’t,” said Lise-Marie Dambrine, a recent graduate from a political studies institute.

Cécile Renouard, a philosopher who teaches at several universities, said that courses on the environment in higher education “are not always radical enough and not systemic enough.”

“The challenge is also to show how ecological questioning invites us to revisit all our subjects,” she added.

In 2018, Ms. Renouard founded the Campus de la Transition, or the Transition Campus, an alternative academic institution where a range of subjects, from economics to law, are taught through environmental lenses.

It has drawn some 700 students to its campus, an 18th century chateau about 40 miles southeast of central Paris, surrounded by gardens where students grow leeks and gourds that will eventually end up in the pots of the campus canteen.

The Transition Campus has partnered with several universities to train students and has recently published “The Great Transition Manual,” commissioned by France’s minister of higher education, on putting environmental and social justice issues at the heart of university programs.

Ms. Dambrine, 23, said that her experience on the Transition Campus had been “a shock,” giving her “the desire to shake things up.”

The students behind the 2018 manifesto have formed an organization that regularly challenges major French companies by publishing reports tracing their environmental footprints, and urging their peers not to work for businesses that fail to change.

“Companies are doing everything they can to recruit us,” said Mr. Halgand, the École Polytechnique student. “So when we tell them: ‘we’re not coming because you’re destroying the planet and because we don’t support the economic system you’re in,’ it scares them,” he said.

That approach has run into resistance — not surprisingly — in both academia and the corporate world. At the École Polytechnique, following the student protest, the site of the Total research center was eventually moved — 700 feet from its original location.

A few months ago, the student organization published a critical report on the cosmetics giant L’Oreal. While it recognized the company’s efforts to “reduce its impact on the environment,” it also questioned “the very usefulness of all the group’s activities” — essentially denouncing what the students saw as pointless consumerism.

Jean-Claude Legrand, L’Oreal’s executive vice president for human resources, said the company welcomed the push for environmental change, and “we emphasize it more today.” But, he said, there is no dialogue to be had with students who start to “question the business world,” challenging the company’s very existence.

Philippe Drobinski, a climatologist at the École Polytechnique, said that “a critical analysis” of companies’ environmental footprint was necessary but objected to a systematic understanding of all issues through the prism of the environment.

Despite his reservations, he praised the student movement, saying, “If we wanted things to change, it had to come through them.”

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Elite Street causes boilover, Trekking fails again

Elite Street made the incredible leap from maiden to Group 1 winner in five months when he upstaged his rivals in the $1 million Winterbottom Stakes (1200m) at Ascot.

Dan Morton, the only international Group 1-winning trainer in WA, claimed his first win at the elite level on home soil after taking the punt on setting Elite Street for Perth’s premier sprint.

One of the lowest-rated horses in the field, Elite Street defied his $31 quote and barrier 12 courtesy of a great ride by jockey Brad Rawiller.

It was an incredible high in just his second week riding in WA after relocating from Victoria.

Elite Street was his 25th Group 1 winner and fourth in WA. He won the first of his career on Niconero in the Kingston Town Classic at Ascot in 2006.

“I rode a horse for Lindsey Smith a Bendigo … and it came as a bit of a shock the next day when he said ‘look Brad, I think there’s a great opportunity for you over in Perth and basically give it a trial for a couple of months’,” Rawiller said.

“I’ve always had a great time when I’ve been here and I straight away liked the idea.”

Rawiller celebrated with a Frankie Dettori-like star jump off Elite Street in the mounting yard.

“The Winterbottom is one of the great sprint races in Australia and to get the opportunity was huge and when you can deliver, even better,” Rawiller said.

The Street Boss gelding settled midfield and three-wide, but with cover, before launching a powerful sprint in the straight.

He snatched the lead from Rock Magic at the 100m and held off the fast-finishing Celebrity Queen to win by a neck.

Celebrity Queen ($13) was a touch unlucky after being held-up for clear running early in the straight.

Rock Magic ($31), the 11-year-old marvel, ran third for the third time in a Winterbottom.

Trekking, who was sensationally plunged into $1.75 favouritism, ran on from 11th on the turn but failed to figure when fourth.

Morton prepared Scenic Blast to win the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Lightning Stakes-Newmarket Handicap double at Flemington in 2009.

The former jockey, who also won three interstate Group 1s with Scenic Shot, was overcome with emotion after Elite Street’s victory.

He shared the triumph with his parents, former trainer Len and Annette, who own Elite Street with Anita Vale Stud’s Robert and Ann Anderson.

“It’s pretty special,” Dan Morton said.

“I’m trying not to bawl. Super proud of all my staff, they’ve done a super job coming into the carnival and the team’s being going beautiful.

“We sort of knew where we were at. In any other year we probably don’t gain a start in the race, so we were lucky to take our place, but he was a horse I thought had the ammo to do it.

“Brad rode him perfect. He landed three-deep with cover and coming to the corner I thought ‘geez it’s going to take a good one to get past him’.”

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Cambridge Club, where Bay Street elite gather to sweat, drink and deal, facing extinction

Article content continued

Pre-COVID-19, on a given weekday, the towers housed some 326,000 souls, on average. As of mid-October, the towers were only nine-per-cent full, even down from the 10-per-cent occupancy rate achieved in September, before the second wave of the virus washed over the Greater Toronto Area.

In a lot of ways, I feel as though this has been our finest hour

Clive Caldwell

Grant Humes, executive director of the Toronto Financial District BIA, isn’t giving up on the idea of the office just yet. He returned to his desk in First Canadian Place in August.

“People are going to come back,” he said, although he can’t say when. “The currency of business is human interaction. It is hardwired into us.”

The unnamed Cambridge members interviewed for this story agreed. Bankers, dealmakers, law partners, traders, junior executives looking to foster relationships, older bosses looking to mentor protégés, it is about making connections — and not just via Zoom. And, if you are a member of the Cambridge, it is also about grabbing a beer after a game of squash.

“Clive has done a great job of creating a community,” a member said.

Not everybody is impressed by the community. During the 2015 federal election campaign, then-rookie Liberal candidate and current Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland stormed the proverbial club gates after word got out that Joe Oliver, Conservative finance minister and a Cambridge member, would be speaking at the men’s only facility.

Media ask questions of club members and staff while being asked to leave the Cambridge Club in Toronto, Wednesday Aug. 26, 2015. Photo by Tyler Anderson/National Post files

Freeland cried foul, alleging sexism. The social media mob howled for Oliver’s head. An unidentified club member in a bathrobe was caught on camera, eyeing the ensuing brouhaha, as the Liberal hopeful appeared at the club’s entrance, journalists in tow.

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Blackwater Elite return to action, take on San Miguel

THE Blackwater Elite return to action on Tuesday against the San Miguel Beermen. — PBA IMAGES

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE Blackwater Elite return to PBA Philippine Cup action on Tuesday after a two-week break because of coronavirus concerns, taking on the defending champions San Miguel Beermen in the opener at 10 a.m. of a quadruple-header offering at the Angeles University Foundation Arena in Pampanga.

Last played on Oct. 22 before the league decided to ground the team after one of its players tested positive for the coronavirus, later ruled a “false positive” case following negative results from confirmatory tests, the Elite look to resume their bid in the ongoing Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) tournament where they are sporting a 2-3 record, good for eight place in the 12-team field.

Blackwater coach Nash Racela shared that their inactivity was “tough”, but that they tried to make do with what they were presented with to stay the course both physically and mentally, and now they are ready to do battle once again.

In their last game, the Elite lost to league-leading TNT Tropang Giga, 109-96.

They trailed TNT for much of the contest en route to slumping to their second straight defeat.

Don Trollano led the way for Blackwater in said game, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Mac Belo had 16 points and eight rebounds while Mike Tolomia wound up with 12 points.

Days after the game, it was made known that one of the Elite’s players tested positive for the coronavirus.

He was immediately extracted from his room at the Quest Plus Hotel inside Mimosa, which is part of the PBA “bubble,” and taken to the quarantine facility in the Athlete’s Village in Capas, Tarlac, for observation.

The player then went through antigen and reverse transcription polymerase reaction (RT-PCR) testing to confirm the previous result.

While the results were being awaited, the Blackwater team, and TNT, were asked to isolate themselves as a precautionary measure, leading to some of their games being postponed.

The results of the confirmatory tests of the player later on yielded negative, ruling him false positive, or “when someone does not have the coronavirus, tests positive for it.”

But as part of the league protocols, he was still asked to stay in the quarantine facility.

Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Blackwater team, and the rest of the PBA squads, tested negative in the league’s latest cycle of swab tests.

In their return, waiting for the Elite are the streaking Beermen (4-2), winners of their last three games.

Despite not having key cogs June Mar Fajardo and Terrence Romeo because of injuries, San Miguel is now in the swing of things after a slow start, riding largely on the efforts of its champion core of Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross as well as big man Mo Tautuaa.

The latest of the Beermen’s wins came on Oct. 28 at the expense of the Meralco Bolts, 89-82.

The Blackwater-San Miguel matchup sets the stage for a busy day for the PBA, where it will be staging the first of a series of quadruple-header offerings.

The league move was to make up for the lost play dates since Oct. 30, when it decided to postpone all matches as it fine-tuned its coronavirus protocols in collaboration with the government, and for PBA to stay on track of finishing the elimination round by Nov. 11. 

Also on tap today are the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters (4-3) against Terrafirma Dyip (0-5) at 1 p.m., Northport Batang Pier (1-4) against TNT (5-1) at 4 p.m., and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings (4-2) versus the Alaska Aces (5-3) at 6:45 p.m.

Quadruple-headers are also slated on Nov. 4, 6, 8, and 11 while triple-headers are set for Nov. 5 and 9.

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Lockdown: Premier League and elite sport to continue in England

The Premier League and other elite sport can continue behind closed doors during a new four-week national lockdown in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new restrictions for the country that will start on Thursday and run until 2 December to combat coronavirus and avoid the NHS being overwhelmed.

“The changes mean people should work from home where possible,” tweeted culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

“But where this is not possible, travel to a place of work will be permitted – e.g. this includes (but not exhaustive) elite sport played behind closed doors.”

During a news conference to announce the measures, Johnson gave a thumbs up and said “Yes to the Premier League” when asked if top-flight football will continue.

The Premier League was halted in March before the first national lockdown and has been played without fans since it restarted in June.

The English Football League says it has been told by the government that its competitions can continue in England and Wales.

“We acknowledge the Government’s national efforts in tackling this outbreak and would hope that during this next phase of the crisis, our national sport, negatively affected by Covid-19 like many other industries, can continue to provide some form of welcome distraction and give people in our communities up and down the country a sense of normality in very challenging times,” the EFL said in a statement.

Leisure centres and gyms will close under the news restrictions, while it is not clear what how grassroots and amateur sport will be affected, but guidance is being drawn up.

Under the new restrictions:

  • People are being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as work which cannot be done from home and education.
  • People are allowed to exercise outdoors alone, with their household or with one other person

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson said her organisation was “extremely disappointing and frustrating to see indoor leisure being forced to close again,” adding that pools were a “safe and a lifeline for many people” and should be “considered an essential service”.

“A second period of closure will push many facilities over the edge and there is the dangerous prospect of losing so many facilities for good,” she said.

More to follow.

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